In April 2015, to mark the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, Writing the City invited Singaporeans to pen a 300-word reflection on what this towering figure had meant to them.
Mr Lee will be remembered as an intellectual, a visionary politician and a statesman who earned the respect of governments around the world. He will also be remembered as a formidable and pragmatic ruler who laid the foundations for the prosperity of Singapore today.
But we asked: what did Mr Lee mean to you personally? How did his vision for the country affect your personal or cultural sense of identity – perhaps even the way that you think of yourself as Singaporean?
This is what you told us.
A Country Rather than a Legacy
Dear Mr Lee
I did not know you as a person so I shall address you as an era.
I cannot comprehend what you went through, I have not seen war unfiltered by camera lenses nor have I suffered oppression from foreign powers.
The dedication, hard work and vision to lay down groundwork for a future Singapore is laudable. For a country that has gained a reputation of being individualistic, that mindset is sadly a novel concept.
The images of riot and unrest, poverty and strife, a leader crying over the lost prospect of something bigger – all of it made up your fabric.
You were the mythical portrait of a Singapore that overcame odds both natural and man-made, a battle hardened force of nature that defied logic and history.
Does that lead to my inability to criticise? Rendering me mute against the tidal wave of accolades and awe?
Your actions were done under circumstances that we were foreign to us but sometimes it felt excessive and cruel.
Opposition was stifled, either due to necessity or fear, and instability was rampant for a recovering colony taking its first unsure steps towards nationhood.
You laid down the foundations for a country as best as you can and we are eternally grateful for that.
But you will not define us.
We will make a Singapore that reflects who we are, a Singapore not obsessed with adding floors to skyscrapers, but widening the entrance so more can get in.
So Mr Lee, I am addressing you both as a person and an era now, your passing was sad and I wish I had gotten to know you more. But more than anything, I want to thank you for creating a country rather than a legacy.
Nyi Nyi Thet
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